Much has been made of Nineteen's position as a restaurant at a golf club. But since it opened a little over two years ago, it has won accolades and respect as a fine-dining restaurant in its own right, rather than merely somewhere to grab a sandwich after a few rounds of golf in the park. If you don't know your bunkers from your birdies, it really doesn't matter - these days you're just as likely to jostle for a table with tourists and dating couples as you are with Tiger Woods wannabes in Lyle & Scott pullovers and plus-fours.
Indeed, when we walked into the sleek and understated dining room it was like no other golf establishment we'd visited (not that we make a habit of that, by the way). For a start, there was none of the perceived stuffiness that one might expect from such an elitist establishment, only warm smiles and friendly welcomes from the amiable staff. The dark wooden panelling and soft ambient light gave the place a relaxed feel, and the smooth service made us feel like part of the furniture. Soon, two teacups full of white, frothy cream of cauliflower soup were placed in front of us by way of an intensely flavoursome amuse bouche, and we were ready to tee off.
My foie gras starter was huge, and perhaps a sign of things to come. The skillfully seared lobes were rich and succulent on the outside, fluffy and light on the inside, and perfect next to the caramelised pear. As I was savouring this delicacy, my dining partner was busy sinking into the wild salmon tartar, which arrived on a bed of thinly sliced cucumber. It was supremely fresh and imbued with a zesty quality that prodded the palate in anticipation of the mains.
I reeled in the red snapper, which was suitably light following the foie gras, yet perfectly substantial in dimension. The two fillets had been crisped to perfection on the skin side, and the flesh was as juicy as the day it was hauled from the sea. But the real winner was my friend's fillet steak. Bigger than a golf buggy, the huge hunk of beef was superbly cooked and so tender that we could have sliced it up with a sand wedge. Not realising how big the portions would be, we'd foolishly ordered side dishes of cream potato, square chips and a perky rocket and Parmesan salad - all were excellent, but the sheer amount of food proved to be a severe handicap when the desserts appeared.
I chipped away at a gloriously moist piece of toffee sponge with vanilla ice cream in a shallow pool of toffee sauce. It was a masterful pudding, but a bit of a slog to finish. And it was a similar story across the table, where my dining companion wrestled with the raspberry plate, which offered a giant pavlova that resembled some kind of boulder hazard. It was almost impervious, so we teamed up and concentrated on the raspberry coulis and Anglaise foam instead.
Once again, with its European / Asian fusion cuisine and its contemporary styling, Nineteen had proved itself as a restaurant that can hold its own against any in the country. Which is perhaps why a fresh perspective is needed. No longer should we regard Nineteen as a restaurant at a golf course. Rather, we should think of the Montgomerie as a golf course that's next to a very fine restaurant. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org